Review by Kara Gheldof

Using cons to catch a con isn’t new territory in TV and film, but A&E’s scripted drama, Breakout Kings, manages to put its own spin on the idea and brings viewers a show worth tuning in for every Sunday night.

Prior to its airing, Breakout Kings—one of the network’s few scripted dramas alongside unexceptional ‘reality’ offerings like Storage Wars and Dog the Bounty Hunter—didn’t appear to be a show worth bragging about. From the minds of Nick Santora and Matt Olmstead, best known as the creators of Fox’s high-concept drama Prison Break (2005-09), Breakout Kings tells the story of three convicts, serving their time in maximum security facilities for various crimes, who are given a chance to knock time off their sentence by helping a pair of federal marshals chase down escaped convicts. For someone who has seen Prison Break, it’s a fair leap to the conclusion that Breakout Kings would not be worth the time, but don’t let its origins fool you. While Breakout Kings boasts the same creators, similar elements, and even exists in the same universe (one character from Prison Break crossed over to break out of a new prison), it is an entirely different animal from its predecessor.

What Breakout Kings has going for it that Prison Break did not is that it doesn’t try to be too ambitious. Prison Break boasted a highly conceptual premise and style that got a lot of people to tune in initially, but it wasn’t sustainable over a long period of time and it couldn’t retain the viewers. Eventually the show ran out of ideas and entered a slump in the second season and while a few holdout fans might disagree, it was all downhill from there. One doesn’t get the feeling that Breakout Kings will follow the same route. There is a slew of stories waiting to be told and a myriad of possible directions the show could take because it focuses on its characters rather than a convoluted and clumsy plot.

The characters and their interaction with one another are one thing Breakout Kings continually gets right week to week; the entire cast is full of dynamic characters and any way you mix up their scenes, you come out with a pairing that has chemistry and potential. When the show began last year, none of the cast could be considered household names, but some had impressive resumes nonetheless. Laz Alonzo (Avatar, Jumping the Broom) and Domenick Lombardozzi (The Wire) played the marshals heading up the unlikely team. There was a brief stumble when the female convict from the pilot didn’t work out, but her replacement, Serinda Swan (Smallville) has more than proven her worth to the team and the show. But by a wide margin, the show’s V.I.P. continues to be Jimmi Simpson, playing genius behaviorist and former MD, Lloyd Lowery. Simpson boasts a wide array of television guest appearances and movies (he may be remembered by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia fans as one of the McPoyle brothers), but he’s never had the spotlight before and it’s a shame, because his weekly portrayal of Lloyd really shows how much you’ve been missing. Thankfully, the creators seem to understand what a dynamic character Lloyd is, as he’s often thrust to the forefront of episodes. It’s always a relief to know that your show understands who its most valuable players are and utilizes them accordingly.

When the second season of Breakout Kings premiered, they took a bold and potentially foolish step by killing off one of the key characters. This is a rather intrepid move for a show that was just barely granted a second season, and it’s obvious that some fans are upset with the game-changing death, but hopefully it doesn’t hurt the show too much. The pared down cast actually works to the show’s advantage, highlighting characters that didn’t get as much screentime in season one and allowing others to grow and take on more responsibilities. Just so long as the show doesn’t get too trigger-happy—another of Prison Break’s many follies that never allowed you to get close to characters—this might be a change for the best, in the long run.

Breakout Kings airs at 10 p.m. on A&E Sunday nights, and it’s never too late to start watching. While the characters can be complex, the show remains accessible and just plain fun from the moment the convict breaks out of their cell to the moment they’re safely locked up again.

© Kara Gheldof, 2012